Insights from an Interview with E.J. Peiker

E.J. Peiker is a photographer whose work stands out to me in many ways.  All of his photographs are technically strong: sharp, correctly exposed, and have a great perspective. However, in addition to this, all of his photographs are simply stunning. His website can be visited at www.ejphoto.com. The following is an interview of him answering some questions I asked him. How did you start into photography? I received my first camera at age 7 - a now defunct 126, square-format, Kodak Instamatic. At age 12, I started to take pictures more seriously using a Yashica 35mm rangefinder with a 50mm f1.7 lens. At age 16 I switched to Minolta cameras starting with the professional level XD-11 SLR and then progressing through the Minolta system ultimately ending up with the Minolta Maxxum 9000, the first pro-featured auto-focus SLR, in the late 1980's.

Photograph by E.J. Peiker

After a full recovery from a serious skiing accident which caused me to sell all my Minolta gear. I purchased an Olympus IS-1 Zoom Lens Reflex camera which I quickly found to be way too limiting so I started over in 1994 using the Nikon system. I eventually ended up with Nikon Professional bodies and Nikon's professional grade AF-S lenses. The choice of Nikon was heavily influenced by John Shaw's photography and I concentrated primarily on Southwestern landscapes and captive species animal photography. In 1999, my photographic world expanded when I was introduced to the beautiful bird photography of Arthur Morris through a book called "The Art of Bird Photography" which he authored. The more I got into bird photography, the more it became apparent that Canon's Image Stabilization technology would result in a much higher percentage of sharp photos with the very long focal length lenses needed to get full frame bird photographs. In December 2000, I began photographing with Canon's professional EOS 1 series of camera bodies and Canon "L - series" professional lenses. In early 2002, I added the EOS 1D professional digital body and in 2003 I added the full-frame EOS 1Ds digital body. In mid 2003, I sold my last film camera body since high end digital cameras were beginning to equal the best film cameras in image quality. For several years, my primary landscape tool was the 16.7 megapixel EOS 1Ds Mark II and my primary wildlife camera was the EOS 1D Mark IIn camera. In mid 2008, I added a Nikon D300, D700 and the awesome Nikon 200-400 f/4VR lens due to the fact that the Canon simply offers no long zoom that rivals this lens and am now shooting with a D3x, D700 and D300. At the beginning of 2009 I liquidated my Canon gear and fully switched back to Nikon after several Canon miss-steps on significant new gear introductions and a product line that was increasingly less to my liking from a features and quality standpoint. Which brand do you like best, Canon or Nikon? Today, there are many things I like about Canon, many things I like about Nikon, Sony has introduced some great innovations, Pentax has brought the price of Medium format to almost sane levels and Panasonic and Olympus are making a huge splash in the mirror-less arena so this is a very difficult question to answer. I am using the Nikon system today. You can see the gear I shoot with here: http://www.ejphoto.com/Equipment.htm
Broad Billed Hummingbird

Photograph by E.J. Peiker

Do you normally photograph in manual modes and why? I photograph exclusively in manual exposure mode but use autofocus. This simply gives me more control and I don't have to try to outguess the camera's automation. Lets take a bird in flight for example in a constant unchanging light level provided by the sun. When the bird is against the sky an automated exposure system select one exposure and when that same bird flies into an area with trees as the backdrop, even though the bird is being lit exactly the same by the sun, the automatic exposure system will calculate a very different exposure. The correct exposure should be identical in this scenario. What is your favorite photography location and why? There are so many and this is a very difficult question to answer because I travel all over the world. I also photograph landscapes, wildlife and birds so it really depends on the subject. So I'll keep it more general. Nothing on Earth puts me more at ease than photographing an alpine lake in the mountains early in the morning with a crystal clear reflection. For birds, my favorite place is usually one where I can photograph whatever species I am in search of. But I do gravitate more to the polar regions if I have to be pressed for a favorite. Places like Iceland, Antarctica, The Falklands, Alaska come to mind. Is there a location that you wish to photograph but haven't? I have been on every continent except Australia; so, naturally that one bubbles to the top. I am also planning a trip to Svalbard next year which I am anticipating greatly. Yellowstone National Park seems to be one of the most often visited photography hot spots. Since you have been there also, how to you take unique photographs in such an often photographed area? It is definitely a heavily photographed place. Some of my more popular, non-iconic shots from Yellowstone have been of detailed features of some of the pools.
Photograph by E.J. Peiker

Photograph by E.J. Peiker

How do you normally edit your photographs? I go through several stages but first I backup everything in triplicate: 1. I cull anything that has focus or serious exposure problems - focus applies almost exclusively to birds in flight. 2. I go through and select the best of the best 3. I select those with potential 4. I delete obvious duplicates 5. I process them in order of what I feel like or what the client is requesting. What is the advantage of Digital over Film Cameras? Immediate feedback is probably the biggest one. Also the ability to take many sots without having to change rolls of film is key for bird and wildlife shots. Also the dynamic range of modern digital cameras far exceeds transparency film. Nature photographers often do difficult "stunts" in order to take some of their photographs. Are there any of these that you did that stand out specifically? I've certainly had a few close brushes with death from falling off of a cliff into a river 50 feet below, to being attacked by a Moose, to having a bear come up to me and rub his side against my leg. But I am getting wiser as I get older and find myself with fewer and fewer of those situations.
Bobcat

Photograph by E.J. Peiker

Is there a single principle that has helped you most with photography? A single principal? Hmm. Probably the age old "shoot at the edges of the day" for your best chances at getting great photos.

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